How Am I Doing?

September 16th, 2014

When he was mayor of New York City, the late Ed Koch used to begin his press conferences by asking, “How am I doing?” Being a feisty New Yorker, he expected honest answers and he was more than willing to parry criticisms.

Today, there are few politicians with the courage to ask for face-to-face comments on their performance. Yet Koch asked a question of himself that they should ask–and we should ask, too. How are we doing–as Christians, as citizens, as neighbors, as family members? It’s also a good question to pose as members of church communities–how are our parishes doing? What are we doing well? Not so well? What means are we using to evaluate our work for God’s Kingdom?

In our parish, we are beginning a process of self-examination and planning called, “Incarnation 2020.” At the beginning of the school year and the autumn uptick in activity, this seems like the right thing to be doing. In this regard, at least, we can answer Ed Koch’s question, “OK.” –J. Douglas Ousley


A New Trec

September 9th, 2014

The Task Force for Reimagining the Church (TREC) has just issued a report. The report summarizes what TREC considers to be the changes the Episcopal Church has to make in order to stop its decline and expand its mission.

While there is a lot of predictable jargon and ious talk, there’s also some substance to the Task Force’s views. The bureaucracy of the National Church is still weighty, even after years of cuts. The structure of General Convention permits too many resolutions to allow for serious discussion of anything, and the whole meeting is too big and too long and too expensive.

In addition, TREC recognizes that only real cultural change will jolt the Episcopal Church out of its lethargy. This view is often expressed by the Bishop of New York and while I am skeptical that our church will be able to reform its corporate structure soon, the report is a step in the right direction. –J. Douglas Ousley

 


Predictable

August 18th, 2014

The Nominating Committee charged with selecting candidates for the election of a Presiding Bishop next summer has just issued its list of qualities desired in their ideal candidate. 

Like the secular political scene, the Episcopal Church arena is filled with predictable statements. Is anyone surprised that the committee wants a Presiding Bishop who has an “authentic” spiritual life–as opposed to inauthentic? Is anyone surprised that the new PB will love diversity and want to make us even more diverse? (My own prediction is that the next PB will be a person of color–the first. My choice right now would be the Bishop of North Carolina.)

Of course, as I noted in a previous post, if the current PB decides to run for a second term, all bets are off. Given the current gentility of the House of Bishops, it’s doubtful anyone would dare to run against her.

Meanwhile, membership in the church continues to decline and the only contribution the national bureaucracy seems to make to the life of the church is a steady stream of predictable pronouncements on selected political issues. –J. Douglas Ousley


Pacifism Bombs

August 11th, 2014

I was once a card-carrying member of the Episcopal Peace Fellowship, and I still have considerable sympathy for the pacifist position as represented, for example, by the Methodist theologian Stanley Hauerwas. Seeking peace was incontrovertibly essential to Christ’s concept of the Kingdom of God.

The problem is that the real world in which we Christians live seems to be getting more and more violent. It’s hard to see in some cases how we as a nation can help our unfortunate fellow men and women without using the violent means at our disposal. Letting fellow Christians be slaughtered because we would have to take up arms to help them seems to be as passive as it would be pacifist. It would seem to be a shirking of our responsibility to care for the least of our brethren.

I don’t know if the Episcopal Peace Fellowship even exists any more, so little is it in the news. And while I recognize the need for military action against oppression and terrorism, the decline of the pacifist position is sad. –J. Douglas Ousley


For Christ’s Sake

August 4th, 2014

In the midst of all the horrendous world-political news, there is an unprecedented amount of Christian suffering. Christians have been slaughtered or kidnapped in Nigeria, Pakistan, and Syria; they have been expelled from parts of Iraq; and they are under assault in many other countries in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia.

It is not clear how American foreign policy should be shaped by these tragedies, but it is clear that Christians everywhere else should be up in spiritual arms. Yet while American Muslim groups, for example, respond vigorously to the slightest attack on Islam, American churches seem resigned to the global persecution of their Christian brothers and sisters. 

It is also not clear, however, what we can do in individual cases to help them. At the very least, though, we can remember the suffering church in our corporate prayer and in our daily prayer, for Christ’s sake. –J. Douglas Ousley


Less Democracy–More Women Leaders?

July 15th, 2014

The General Synod of the Church of England , after years of debate and failed motions, yesterday passed the final resolution that will allow for the appointment of women bishops. There was cheering and considerable relief, as conservative Anglo-Catholics and Evangelicals voted for legislation that they felt would preserve their freedom to remain separate from the female episcopacy.

Note that I said, “appointment.” In the Church of England, bishops, cathedral deans and canons, and archdeacons are chosen by other bishops or the Prime Minister. There is nothing like the diocesan election system in place in the U.S.

Interestingly, the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church was recently in England, and she was asked about the coming Synod vote. She ventured the opinion that women leadership might advance more rapidly than it has in this country because women could be chosen by a few hierarchs, rather than by various large conventions.

Does this mean that ordinary laypeople and priests are anti-feminist and reactionary? I would hope not. In any case, the next few years in England will certainly be years of change. –J. Douglas Ousley


So Help Us God

July 9th, 2014

To no fanfare and precious little interest even among careful observers of national church politics, the Joint Nominating Committee has presented its first “essay” regarding the upcoming election of a new Presiding Bishop.  

The essay doesn’t say much except present a timeline for the nominating process. The real issues will be in the descriptions of the qualities of the ideal PB–and even these could probably be written today: “loves God, strives for peace and justice, nurtures diversity, strong leader” etc.

The only underground gossip seems to surround whether the current Presiding Bishop might seek an unprecedented second nine-year term, as apparently she will be just young enough to do. If she says definitively that she will not run, then expect candidates to come out of the woodwork. If she does run, then there will be lots of interest, because even her biggest supporters are disappointed in the decline of the church in the past eight years of her leadership. –J. Douglas Ousley


In the Heart of Texas

May 28th, 2014

While in Dallas on a recent visit, I attended a Kiwanis Club meeting with my father-in-law. The small group was mostly elderly and included a number of veterans of various wars, including World War II, which was the subject of the meeting. 

The chairman gave a review of a book about the last year of the battle against Hitler, detailing all the deaths from aerial combat, ground warfare, disease, bombing, and so on. At the end of the report, the chairman offered a personal remark, which I found extraordinary–given the location and the audience. 

He said, “If I could vote President Obama out of office tomorrow, I would. But I thank God that he has kept us out of any more wars.” –J. Douglas Ousley


No News Is…

May 6th, 2014

An unearthly quiet seems to have descended upon the Episcopal Church. Other than the recent divorce of Bishop Gene Robinson from his husband, there has been no real news. A group is working on a new vision for the Church, but the average layperson’s interest in that seems negligible. Any candidates in the campaign for Presiding Bishop–to be elected in summer, 2015–are apparently awaiting the announcement by the incumbent of whether she will run again. Bishop Jefferts-Schori is the first PB ever to be eligible for a second term; few bishops or others seem to want that, however, given the decline of the church during her time in office.

What’s next? Maybe this quiet period in Episcopal Church history will allow for growth at the parish level. In any event, it’s hard to see that some time out of the glare of negative media coverage will hurt the church. –J. Douglas Ousley


I Met a Saint

May 1st, 2014

During the 1980′s, when I was serving the Episcopal Church of St. Paul’s Within-the-Walls in Rome, I had several occasions to meet Pope John Paul II. At that time, what few Italian Protestants there were declined to meet with the Bishop of Rome, so whenever the Vatican wanted to have an ecumenical service, foreign Protestant clergy would be invited. I must say that I found the Pope even more charismatic than his reputation attested. He was one of the most attractive and engaging people I have ever met.

Now that he has been canonized, I realize that I can claim to have met a saint–a claim that would have been rare in most of Christian history. Normally, the canonization process in the Roman Catholic Church takes many years, and those who knew the saint personally are long gone by the time he or she is officially pronounced a holy example for the Church. 

This rapid canonization may be a sign of things to come. Our speed-obsessed age may be impatient with the old process. As people cried out in St. Peter’s Square after John Paul died, “Santo subito!” “Make him an official saint instantly!” 

Whether or not this is a good idea–whether we will end up with hastily-chosen saints that later generations will regret–there’s no question that the Church and the world needs examples of extraordinary holiness.–J. Douglas Ousley